Denis Naughten Defends New York Dinner With U.S Businessman.

Former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has defended his handling of the national broadband plan, following a controversy that resulted in his resignation.

The former Fine Gael minister said the aim of his meetings with US businessman David McCourt was “to keep the remaining bidder at the table” in the process to deliver high-speed fibre broadband to over 540,000 rural homes and businesses.

The controversy centred on Naughten attending a dinner with McCourt in New York in July, and hosting McCourt’s daughter for Lunch in the Dáil in April.

The Dáil debated a report by independent auditor Peter Smyth on Tuesday, which found that Mr Naughten’s actions did not favour the Granahan McCourt bid.

“At no time did I interfere or try to interfere with the process to benefit any bidder. I facilitated every meeting with all the bidders in the dialogue process,” he said.

Naughten also questioned the narrative behind the controversy that led to his resignation, asking; “What is driving this narrative – to collapse the plan altogether? It may actually have that desired effect, which will cause more heartache for the 1.2 million people in rural Ireland.”

He also warned that if rural broadband “is not delivered soon the benefit may be lost forever and investment will not flow to rural and regional Ireland”, saying that frustration “is reaching boiling point”.

The Roscommon-Galway TD announced his resignation in the Dáil in October despite no calls from the opposition or the Taoiseach to step down, saying that “The Taoiseach [did] not have confidence” in him.

“Do I wait for that decision myself, to resign, or do I wait for someone else to make that decision for me?”, he said according to “(The outcome was) more about opinion polls than telephone poles… more about optics than fibre optics”.